Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science


Environmental Science

First Committee Member

David M. Hassenzahl, Chair

Second Committee Member

Steven Phelan

Third Committee Member

Dennis Pirages

Graduate Faculty Representative

Christopher Stream

Number of Pages



Many of today's challenging environmental problems, to the point of manifesting themselves on a scale that has global, political consequences, likely result from long-term evolutionary developmental processes. The degree to which humans can manage the evolution of these problems remains an open question. Faced with such challenges, since the mid 1980s, an increasing number of scholars have developed other forms of management, in particular, adaptive management. Scholars suggest that improving the performance of adaptive management requires that environmental problems be understood as 'complex', open, evolving systems of interacting social and environmental subsystems. To date, narrative has been the primary approach used by researchers to study complex social-environmental systems, including their developmental patterns and underlying factors driving the system. Although useful as an initial step, narratives may be biased, misleading, or incomplete. Other methods are needed to draw complementary inferences between data and theory. The absence of a more systematic method — for example, one that combines qualitative and quantitative analyses — points to a critical gap in the adaptive management literature. In view of this gap, I undertook comparative research that combines computer-assisted content analysis of national policy documents with statistical exploratory multivariate analyses. As a case study, I examine the development of national nuclear waste management policies as a complex social-environmental system in 23 countries. First, I assess whether general patterns of broad system development, namely, linear, periodic, or chaotic, exist. I also examine how external or internal factors influence the general development of the system. Second, I assess the relative importance of potential key system drivers — here, stakeholder adaptive capacities (SACs) — when sustainable development is a specific management goal. Six SACs were selected: learning by managers, social responsibility of managers, public participation in decision-making, government oversight, formal project collaboration, and emergency preparedness. The findings of the study that point to the importance of networking adaptive capacities are likely to be useful for public and private managers alike.


Adaptive natural resource management; Complexity; Environmental sciences; Management; Nuclear; Policy; Radioactive wastes; Waste


Environmental Policy | Environmental Sciences | Policy History, Theory, and Methods | Public Policy | Social Welfare

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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